Are you tired of email? I am. After returning this week from vacation, I had more than 300 email messages that I had to wade through. Studies show that email is one of the latest job stress contributors. Some messages that will be clogging our inboxes in the future are those generated from the implementation of unified messaging (UM) technology. This technology really hits home when you realize that your voice mail and email inboxes will someday merge into one. Although UM isn't new to Exchange, it's really viable for the first time in Exchange 2000, which has direct support for UM applications and content.

On the client side, UM support comes as an extension to the Outlook client or from a browser such as Internet Explorer (IE). With Exchange 2000 and Outlook 2000, you can extend Outlook by installing the client extension from the server (yes, it comes in the box). When you receive a message with UM content, the media control is embedded into the email message and allows streaming from the Exchange 2000 server. The trick is that the message content must be HTML because to stream content from the server, the client must be able to use the HTTP byte-range feature (it lets data be read in byte range offsets and, therefore, be streamed) available with IE 5.0+ and Outlook 2000. If you're using a down-level client that doesn't support HTTP byte-ranges, the UM content won't be streamed—it will simply be downloaded to the player.

The Exchange 2000 server supports UM with a new format that Microsoft calls the Multimedia Message Format (M-Cubed). M-Cubed uses a MIME profile that allows multiple media types and different headers. M-cubed is the native storage format for all multimedia content on Exchange 2000 Server, and any MIME client can use this format. Exchange 2000 Server also supports the Internet Engineering Task Force's (IETF's) Voice Profile for Internet Mail (VPIM) standard (RFC 2421). VPIM controls things such as the coder-decoder (codec), MIME type, and behavior of the message. Several UM products are compatible with Exchange 2000's VPIM support including products from Baypoint, Comverse, Avaya, and Nortel. When Exchange 2000 receives VPIM messages from one of these products, the system converts these messages to the M-cubed format that Exchange 2000 uses and stores them in the streaming store database designed specifically for applications such as UM.

The next generation of UM support, which vendors are working on, is the Internet Voice Messaging (IVM) standard. IVM provides for end-to-end voice messaging applications and even specifies desktop codecs and E.168 addressing for UM applications. Email's future seems to include voice messaging and a single, unified inbox for each client device, so we better get used to it. As you look for ways to extend the usefulness of your Exchange deployment, UM might be worth a look.